Mountain Town News |

Mountain Town News

Allen Best

Whistler, the municipality, has purchased a composting facility at a cost of $1.8 million. The composting machine has been used for several years at a downvalley location, but with problems, among them complaints about the odor. Whistler plans to use the composting machine at a different location, integrating municipal sewage into the mass. The machine takes meat, fish, fruits and other food waste from restaurants and stores, and combines it with wood and paper wastes, producing material within two weeks that can be used to amend soil.The plan is to get composting material from communities both upvalley and downvalley from Whistler, with some hope of eventually including food scraps from households. Whistler hopes someday to divert all waste going to the landfill. For now, however, the trash is hauled several hundred miles to a landfill near the Columbia River, north of Portland, Ore.

Phil Miller understands why people in Summit County, Vail and Grand County are anxious about the trees killed by mountain bark beetles. As a young man after World War II, he was a member of U.S. Forest Service crews dispatched from Eagle and Kremmling that doused large areas of trees with insecticide.He spent a career in the Forest Service, but chose to live in retirement in Telluride, where he is active in town affairs. Writing in The Telluride Watch, he says there are easier and cheaper ways to deal with the fire hazard than logging the trees.Torch them in midwinter, he advises, when there is plenty of snow on the ground. “Torching the red-tops will burn off all of the needles and small branches,” he says. “What is left, the main stem and large branches, will not carry a crown fire.”I can tell you it is fun,” he adds. “The people could have torching parties in the winter.”

With Silverton at its heart, San Juan County is a maze of gravel and dirt roads, some of which connect to the neighboring towns of Telluride, Ouray and Lake City. The roads climb around and over a sea of 13,000-foot peaks, and they become busy during summer months with all-terrain vehicles.Colorado law requires only that ATV operators be a minimum of 10 years old and within the line of sight of an adult, although the minimum age for drivers of cars and trucks is 15 years, 3 months of age for a learner’s permit.But San Juan County several years ago mandated a driver’s license and proof of insurance for anybody driving an ATV within the county.This, reports the Silverton Standard & Miner, has not set well with everybody in the community. One motel operator, noting that ATV operators “bring a lot of money to this area and keep us all going,” urged the county to get its regulations in line with the state’s. Another speaker said that the requirement of a minimum age of 16 seemed “anti-family.”The Standard reports a well-attended meeting, and overwhelming sentiment – including that of the county commissioners – for staying the course. Among the arguments, reports the Standard, is safety, as young ATV riders nationally have a very high accident rate.San Juan County Sheriff Sue Kurtz was among those urging no change to county regulations. “The problem is 20 times more than it was 10 years ago,” she said. She wished for seamless regulations and enforcement among the interconnected counties of the San Juan Mountains.Animas Forks – a ghost town between Silverton and Lake City – has become a major staging area for ATVs, she noted. “It’s a dangerous situation. We have too big a volume of traffic.”

Care to venture a guess as to what a snottite is?Before forming your answer, it may be useful to know that it’s the sort of thing that cavers may seek. In this case, the cavers assembled in Steamboat Springs (after a highly toxic gas called hydrogen sulfide was pumped out), entered Sulfur Cave in search of these snottites.And the cave does have the snottites. They are, reports The Steamboat Pilot & Today, similar to stalactites, which hang tightly from cave ceilings. But the texture of a snottite is very different from a rigid stalactite. A snottite has – here it comes – the consistency of snot, or mucus. They are composed of single-celled bacteria.”As I blew on them, they’d start to sway back and forth,” caver Mike Frazier told the paper. Cavers said that a cave in Mexico also has the snottites.

A plan to insert deed-restricted affordable housing in a middle-class neighborhood near Park City drew a crowd of 150 people.The Park Record reports that tension at the meeting was palpable as neighbors testified their fears that affordable housing will bring crime to their neighborhood, even as community planners presented the affordable housing as the sort of thing needed for teachers, firefighters and others. One speaker described it as a potential “ghetto in the meadow.”But while the potential for minorities as neighbors may have been an issue for some, homeowner association president Rick Alden said density, not diversity, was at issue. He and others say the plan calls for too many units clumped together.County commissioner Ken Woolstenhulme noted that affordable housing is popular as an ideal – but only as a concrete detail when located in somebody else’s neighborhood.The county is aiming to create housing such that 36 percent of the county’s work force can afford to live within Summit County. Located only 25 freeway miles from Salt Lake City, Summit County has a large commuting work force.Less controversial, says The Record, is proposed inclusionary zoning, which would require 20 percent of all new development and redevelopment comprise affordable units.

The ski area operator at Whistler-Blackcomb has echoed the public doubts of Whistler, the municipality, about a proposed ski resort located downvalley at Squamish.While admitting that his comments look self-serving, Doug Forseth, the senior vice president of operations at the ski area, said Garibaldi at Squamish has a challenging location.While Whistler has a base elevation of 2,000 feet, Squamish is near sea level and gets snow that is even wetter than that in Whistler. Developers of Garibaldi propose to host 15,000 skiers, or half the total of Whistler, on about a quarter of the acreage.

The word “skyrocket” has become hackneyed, but it may apply to construction costs in Whistler. A municipal hall expansion approved less than a year ago by Whistler councilors for $5.7 million, with about a quarter of that in a contingency, has ballooned to a cost of nearly $16 million. Pique editor Bob Barnett reports a “financial apprehension that hasn’t quite developed into full-blown Olympic fiscal paranoia.” But Olympian opportunists may be the softer-hitting news. The greater fear, he says, is labor and materials costs being impacted by regional, national and global factors beyond local control and at a more rapid rate than can be locally comprehended.

It was a shimmering day of irony in Jackson Hole. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney gave a speech to dedicate an $18 million building in Grand Teton National Park – a park enabled, in part, by the philanthropy of the original oil baron, John D. Rockefeller.Meanwhile, on the bicycle path leading to Cheney’s declared primary home, located in a rural subdivision called Teton Pines, a group of about 250 people walked, carrying anti-war signs, accusing Cheney of being the mastermind of a war on behalf of oil.At the gate to the subdivision, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide, the crowd gathered at the feet of a giant statue of Cheney holding a fishing rod in one hand and a spurting oil derrick in the other. Where a heart should have been was a black hole. The giant effigy towered over a tiny George W. Bush head wearing red devil horns and a blindfold over its eyes.”Operation Iraqi Liberation,” sang an entertainer. “Tell me, what does that spell?””O-I-L,” responded the crowd, composed in age from elementary school to great-grandparents. It also included a Democratic state legislator from Jackson Hole.The following week, the newspaper had eight letters on the subject. Most expressed disgust at the protest. “This was not a peace rally, like this group would lead you to believe. It was a hate rally. Nothing more, nothing less,” wrote Bill Scarlett, the local Republican Party chairman. Other similarly spoke of the “hatred and venom” and “over-the-line antics.”As well, one letter-writer said a paid advertisement in the Jackson Hole Daily “accusing the vice president of personal responsibility for casualties in Iraq far exceeds the community norms for decency and reasoned, civil debate.”

Although horse pastures and such can still be seen from Interstate 70 as it passes through the resort country of Colorado, not much real ranching remains. The story almost entirely is of the New West.But off the pavement a few miles, in a place called Burns Hole, with the buzz-headed Flat Top Mountains in the background, the story is different. There, on a mesa above a canyon cut by the Colorado River, are a variety of working ranches, some of them tended by descendants of the original settlers who homesteaded the land in the 1880s and 1890s.The lingering question for the last decade has been whether these old working ranches will inevitably be divided into weekend and vacation homes, even if the restaurants of Vail and Steamboat are almost 90 minutes away.In an attempt to keep the land as a working ranch, the Eagle Valley Land Trust is trying to raise $3.65 million to buy the development rights for the 740-acre Gates ranch. The ranch will remain undivided, and as a working ranch, although the public will not gain access, explains the Eagle Valley Enterprise.The land trust was involved in a similar preservation effort several years ago that was highly controversial. The land trust helped raise money – including $2 million from Eagle County government coffers – for purchase of the Bair Ranch, a private working ranch located in Glenwood Canyon, at the west end of the valley. Opponents protested that the purchase of development rights merely subsidized the lifestyle of the ranching family, and were annoyed that no public access would be allowed.

For now, adults and children and sometimes their dogs are cavorting on the former cow pasture at the entrance to Telluride. But, as expected, the landowner whose land was seized in a process called condemnation has appealed the case to the Colorado Supreme Court.The essence of the 42-page legal filing is a classic strict-construction argument, explains the Telluride Daily Planet.The case goes back several years. With Telluride threatening condemnation of the land, to eliminate potential development, the landowner, Neal Blue, had representatives propose a state law that was subsequently passed by the Colorado Legislature in 2004. Called the Telluride Amendment, it banned home-rule towns, which Telluride is, from using eminent-domain to condemn land outside their borders for open space.Telluride sued, and a district court ruled in favor of the town. The new state law, said the district court, was unconstitutional – that it illegally stripped powers from towns that had already been conferred by the state Constitution.But the landowner, who has turned over the 570 acres pending resolution of the legal case, argues the opposite view, namely that towns can condemn land only for those purposes expressly granted by the Constitution.The case is expected to take until next spring for resolution by the Colorado Supreme Court. It is also assumed this case could go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Curbside recycling will be on the public agenda in Canmore this fall. The goal of the proposal is to divert 50 percent of waste going to the landfill within three years. Potentially at issue, says the Rocky Mountain Outlook, is whether recycling containers will draw wildlife. The town in the past had a difficult time with bears, which have been largely eliminated with the creation of community bear-proof garbage containers. Plus, curbside recycling must be easy, says the newspaper, or people won’t do it.

Yet more high-spirited comment is seen in the pages of the Invermere Valley Echo, where the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort has been praised and vilified for a number of years.Seemingly confident of the results, a good many of the locals have called for an election. Renewing that call in a letter to the editor is Doug Anakin, who says that before the proposed ski area gets any more approvals, “It would be only proper and democratic that a vote be held, in the regional district and in the towns and villages of the valley.”Elsewhere, the paper offers some evidence of the project getting further traction within the provincial government of British Columbia.

Nights have become warmer, cold days more rare, and more precipitation at Lake Tahoe is falling as rain, instead of snow.These are among the findings of an inaugural State of the Lake report issued by scientists from the University of California at Davis. Warming is clearly evident, and the manifold repercussions of that increased heat does not bode well for the clarity of that lake that has fascinated visitors since the time of Mark Twain.Reliable weather records date to 1911, and the average low temperatures at night have risen more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit, say scientists. Days are also warmer. The number of days with average air temperatures below freezing has dropped from 79 to 42 days.With that increased warmth comes more rain. A century ago 52 percent of precipitation arrived as snow. Now, it’s 34 percent.More recent observations show the lake itself is also warming. The average surface water temperature during July has increased almost 5 degrees since 1999, with the record warmth – 78 degrees – registered in July 2006.Geoff Schladow, director of the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center, said the persistent warmer temperatures observed since 1978 are “beginning to have a noticeable impacts on the entire Lake Tahoe ecosystem.”For example, increased warmth has advanced runoff by two weeks, giving algae a longer season to grow.”The types of algae we see in the lake are changing, and they are starting to be present earlier in the year,” he said in a press release. “The lake is becoming more hospitable to invasive plants and fish, with warm-water species like bass and carp increasingly common.”This has repercussions for the legendary clarity of Tahoe, the world’s 11th deepest lake. Clarity has declined from an average of 102 feet when Twain visited in the 1860s to a low of 64 feet in the late 1990s. Scientists, explains the Tahoe Daily Tribune, have said that clarity is falling because of fine particles and nutrients that enter the lake through erosion, runoff and atmospheric deposition. The fine particles scatter light. The nutrients fuel the growth of algae, which absorb light.During the last decade $1 billion has been spent to halt this decline in clarity. Rochelle Nason, executive director of the nonprofit League to Save Lake Tahoe, said it could cost between $2 billion and $3 billion during the next decade to stabilize the lake. “Climate change poses a new kind of threat to Lake Tahoe,” she told the Los Angeles Times.On the wish list: purchase of many of the 1,400 parcels of land around the lake, to be conserved as open space. Also, restoring more than 1,000 acres of wetlands to filter sediments and pollutants before they wash into the lake.Schladow, the lead author of the study, said urgent measures should be taken to eradicate invasive species such as the Eurasian water milfoil, a plant that roots in the lake’s shallows and can grow 4 feet tall. Although still confined to the marinas, the non-native species “could be all over the lake within five years,” he said.Allen Best compiles Mountain Town News. He can be reached at